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The Pharmacist's Mate Paperback – October 29, 2002
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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"It is impossible not to surrender to Amy Fusselman's lovely, haunting voice and strange meditations." -- Amanda Davis
"Ms. Fusselman's book, brief as it is, affected me deeply. Not only that, the talent displayed therein was somewhat unnerving." -- Zadie Smith
"One of the best books about loss I've ever read." -- Rosie O'Donnell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Amy Fusselman's writing has appeared in McSweeney's, Artnews, and Jane. She lives in New York City with her husband and son.
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The author's voice is captivating and kind, courageous and compelling and authentic and rigorous in its self-scrutiny. The Pharmacist's Mate grabbed me like a Whodunnit. I literally couldn't put it down until I'd finished and it was like the vote scene in Lincoln - even though I had a sense of how it would end, I was breathless with nerves. There is something altogether funny about Ms. Fusselman's observations and since this appears so natural, incidental and unforced, it makes you root even more for the heroine.
I was moved to tears by a couple of sections. Something that really stayed with me began: "I am dying now. Still, I don't believe it... I am sitting here in my corpse. I am wiggling my corpse fingers like a puppeteer, making a sound like an insect clicking." That sort of thing hits you like lightning and goes right through to the Earth's core.
That said, I must admit that it is a very well written book; I especially liked the WWII era journal entries of the narrator's father's time in the Merchant Marines; they were an interesting window into that life.
So, I would give this book FIVE stars if it spoke to me, but I only give it three because it was a bit of a lost effort on me. In the end, I would recommend this to anyone, because I think most people will find something where I did not.
A Guide to my Book Rating System:
1 star = The wood pulp would have been better utilized as toilet paper.
2 stars = Don't bother, clean your bathroom instead.
3 stars = Wasn't a waste of time, but it was time wasted.
4 stars = Good book, but not life altering.
5 stars = This book changed my world in at least some small way.
The Pharmacist's Mate is a brief, though not slight, meditation on death, birth, family and music. I found the parts about music particularly interesting, with Fusselman veering as she does between the visceral powers of sea shanties, AC/DC's "Hell's Bells," and "Row Row Row Your Boat." In Fusselman's world, music is one of our most mysterious properties. It takes up space, fills whole stadiums, whips up emotion and inspires devotion, yet it remains invisible, something that can't be touched.
Of course, death is just as intangible. But rather than fill space, it sucks people into it. "After (my dad) died," Fusselman writes, "I saw that people and space are permeable to each other in a way that people and people are not. I saw that space is like water. People can go inside it." And we are there with her, with her family, around her father's deathbed when he finally slips into the space between them.
But this book isn't merely about his dying. He is alive in these pages, too, in the form of journal entries from his days in the Merchant Marine. These are the most priceless sections of the book. They speak in the voice of a young man learning about the world (literally). He shoots sea gulls with a pea shooter, practices using a sextant and treats his shipmates for shock and VD. My favorite line (written after some of the crew on his ship leaves): "I sure hated to see Freddy Hoeske go, for he was my best buddy."
The Pharmacist's Mate defies easy categorization, but I guess you could call it a memoir. It succeeds, though, where other contemporary memoirs fail (or worse, become a big boring mess of solipsism and self-pity) because it reflects something larger than the interests of the author. (For a touchstone example of this, see Martin Amis's Experience, which is very, very great.) It does this, in part, because the writing is lean and disciplined. That's the quality that I admire most.
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I very much related to her story on a personal level.Read more